If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
On 29 March 1876 John Hall Mears (1827-1887), a 49 years old prolific inventor, who used to work as an agricultural machinery agent and commercial traveler, from Oshkosh, the county seat of Winnebago County, Wisconsin, USA, applied for a patent for a small and simple adding machine (arithmometer). The patent (see US patent Nr. 183409) was granted on 17 October 1876, and Mears assigned one-half of his right to Alonzo C. Austin (1833-1912), a businessman from Oshkosh.
The adding machine of Mears was a simple adding device, quite similar to the earlier calculators of his compatriots Jabez Burns and John Ballou from 1858, Joseph Harris (1861), and Milton Jeffers (1863). The adding machine of John Mears obviously never went into production, so the only information we have for it is the patent application. Let’s examine the operation of the device, using the patent drawing (see the image below).
The operation of this instrument is as follows:
The disks C are first turned back until the spring-pins f come against the projecting cams or shoulders i of the springs D. Each disk is then turned, the operator commencing either from the right or the left, at his own option, until one of the pins f comes opposite to that cipher on the index placed on the springs D which corresponds to the cipher in the amount to be added up.
Thus, for instance, if the operator desires to add the sums of 742 and 317, the wheel farthest to the right is turned until the pin f comes opposite the cipher 2 on the index. Next, the second wheel from the right is turned until the pin comes opposite figure 4 of its index. Then the third wheel is turned until the pin f comes opposite the cipher 7, thus indicating the first amount, 742. The second amount, 317, is indicated in the same manner by first turning the third wheel from the right until the pin comes opposite the figure 3. Next, the second wheel from the right is turned until the pin comes opposite the figure 1 on the index, and, lastly, the wheel nearest the end is turned until the pin comes opposite Fig. 7. By looking through the slot a in the front part of the box, the amount of these two sums added (in this case 1059) will appear.
Biography of John Mears
John Hall Mears was born in 1827 in Ontario, Canada. He settled in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, USA, in the middle 1850s. There he worked as a dealer in farm implements and invented and patented (besides the above-mentioned calculating device), quite a few agricultural machines and devices like: car coupling (US pat. No. 25844), harvester rake (US34584 and US35653), mop wringer (US74400), horse-hay rakes (US141370), stove pipe shelf heaters (US151237), etc.
John Mears married Mary Elizabeth Farnsworth on 26 May 1864, in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Mary was a very interesting person. She was born in Groton, Massachusetts, on 27 August 1827, the daughter of Mathias (1797-1876) and Martha (Burges) Farnsworth (1797-1884). The family moved to Illinois when she was only six years old, and a couple of years later they moved to Fond du Lac, WI. She began writing in 1860 under the names “Nellie Wildwood” and “Ianthe,” and became a poet, essayist, and playwright, as she was frequently called the first Wisconsin poetess. John Hall Mears and Elizabeth Farnsworth were the parents of three talented daughters, all of whom pursued artistic careers: Louise (1866-1925), a book illustrator, Mary (1870-1943), a fiction writer, and Helen Farnsworth (1872–1916), a sculptor (John Mears taught her anatomy and made sculpting tools for her). Mary Elizabeth Mears died in Lake Mills, WI, on 15 November 1907.
John Mears died suddenly of heart affection on 23 September 1887 (aged 60) in Oshkosh. He was a member of the Royal Arcanum, a fraternal benefit society, and was foresighted to carry life insurance of 3000$, a nice sum for the time.